Plus peer review for grants: better than a lottery

Paint us a picture

UWS College runs pathway programmes across a range of disciplines plus English language courses for people who want to study at the University of Western Sydney. But I doubt many cover fine art forensics – so why is UWS College hosting an art fraud symposium? In the immortal words of Stewie Griffin, “I’m just asking.”

UA Conference Campus Morning Mail 728 x 210

Off the agenda

All the education action was in Albury yesterday, at a seminar on regional teaching and research. Granted Mr Pyne made his now familiar case that deregulation is essential to maintain the export education industry in a speech at UTS. But as to any mention of the importance of higher education reform in the prime minister’s Press Club speech – not a sausage. So much for his suggestion the other week that higher education is a top priority. But for the PM to have mentioned student fees yesterday would have inevitably placed the policy in the context of the Queensland defeat. The question is when, and if, will Mr Abbott start selling deregulation again.

Reasonable regionals

There were ample people at the Albury seminar keen to turn it into a Pyne pinata party, like the representatives from the National Tertiary Education Union and the National Union of Students. The wrap-up was hardly balanced either. Yes the chair of the Senate education committee, Victorian National Bridget McKenzie spoke, but she was followed Andrew Wilkie, Lee Rhiannon and Sharon Bird, who did not share the senator‘s focus on regional needs. Still, there were also lots of locals anxious to discuss post school education in the region and on balance people judged the day a positive for policy.

It shows in the debrief written by convening independent MP, member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, which is neither a denounce-a-gram attacking the government nor a red-bike-and-pony wish list. Yes Ms McGowan‘s opposition to both Pyne packages is long on the record but instead of just calling for cash the record of the day urges government to consider the specific educational circumstances of regions, demands improved collaboration and infrastructure across all post secondary sectors and, “fairer access to contestable funding streams such as research funding.” There is a hint of how Christopher Pyne can help himself with Victorian regional cross benchers Ricky Muir and John Madigan. As the forum communique put it “MPs and senators who were unable to attend were interested in what was discussed at the forum. Federal Parliament resumes next week and Ms McGowan will be taking the outcomes to Canberra. ‘It’s crucial students and universities in regional Australia are not disadvantaged in any education reforms’ (she said.) ” If not Ms McGowan.

CEF Jan 15

Ignoring education

Although higher education policy obsesses us (well me) the people with the power to make it are not always that interested. Senator Nick Xenophon,who is influential with the crossbench senators who will decide deregulation, didn’t appear all that engaged with increased fees yesterday. He was less than impressed with the PM’s Press Club speech, slamming him for not committing to build new submarines in Adelaide and cutting car-industry support but there was not a word about what university students would have to pay under deregulation.

Got a better idea?

Warwick Anderson seems annoyed with complaints about allocation of National Health and Medical Research Council grants and yesterday the agency’s chair pointed out the necessity and inevitability of peer reviewing. The community gives medical science a bucket of money and the NHMRC is obliged to ensure it is properly spent and that means peer review – which is a natural part of science life. In any case, he wrote, does anybody have a better idea? “Humans do err in their judgements, and there are few researchers who would be willing to leave a decision on their application to a ‘lottery’, a political process or the decision of a single superior (eg, a deputy vice-chancellor or institute director). In the 21st century, few researchers will tolerate ‘I know a good grant when I see one — just trust me’. ”

Excellently achieving excellence and etc.

Ian Jacobs took over as VC at the University of New South Wales yesterday and introduced himself via a video, snappily titled “the next chapter in the development of this great university.” It was standard stuff – any other Group of Eight institution could cut and paste the copy into their own marketing, (not that they would ever plagiarise anything).

The university is committed to excellence in this and quality in that and aspires to achieve in so forth and so on, Professor Jacobs said. So has he got anything special in mind? Not until he hears what the university community has to say, although he did mention “more personal” forms of teaching. IT and digital course developers you are warned.

One thing members of the UNSW community will want to raise with him is a new enterprise agreement. Negotiations drag and while outgoing VC Fred Hilmer signed off an interim pay rise last month (Campus Morning Mail, January 14) there is no sign of a settlement.

ANU - uncover

Universal solution

A reader asks how will the National Tertiary Education Union demand pay rises for staff after its principled campaign against deregulation. “By opposing deregulation, they are essentially limiting the pay and conditions of their staff,” he writes. Fair point, although it underestimates the union belief that public funding, and lots of it, is a sovereign remedy for everything that ails universities.

The union is also signaling a new offensive in its long standing campaign to support casuals. After last year’s push for more permanent jobs the NTEU Victorian branch is now campaigning for equal superannuation contributions for part-time staff, “these staff are much more likely to be women and overwhelmingly younger than their ongoing colleagues.” The union is convening meetings of casual staff at Swinburne and Victoria University this week.

Cash for carbon

While the Cooperative Research Centres community awaits the Miles Review to learn their funding fate one CRC is in great shape for the future. Yesterday Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announced $25m for the Greenhouse Gas Technologies CRC to work on carbon capture and storage for five more years. It is a one-off announcement, made independent of the usual bidding process, which the government suspended in last year’s budget. With the public money coming from the government’s Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships Programme it looks like CRCS concerned for their future should be out looking for alternative revenue streams.

Pay to publish

The Nature journal group has joined with the University of Queensland to announce a new open access, peer-reviewed journal, Science of Learning, edited by the Queensland Brain Institute’s Pankaj Sah. This is a thoroughly good move. As the university points out, for all the billions we spend on schools, outcomes aren’t improving and neuroscience can examine what is working and what isn’t in teaching and learning. The journal will update weekly with articles available all without charge. But don’t thank Nature; thank the authors whose research the journal will publish because they, or more likely their institutions will pay to appear. The Nature group charges $4000 to run an article.